There are many things to love about bookshops. The smell hits you first - that rich, slightly dusty yet sweet smell that all the best books have. Then, there's the sheer number of enticingly brightly coloured tomes that line the shelves and tables before you. Take it as a comfort that no matter how old you get, you will never run out of books to read. Visitors and locals alike are spoilt for choice when it comes to bookshops in London, but, as always, the secret lies in where to find the best of them...
So, without further ado, let's take a look at the very best bookshops in London. Don't blame us if you end up spending the whole day sat in a corner of one reading the latest Margaret Atwood...
If you ever want to feel like a child standing in a sweetshop again (we know those days are long past for you), head to Foyles. A vast, five-floored colossus with four miles of shelves holding 200,000 titles, book lovers could spend days here and not get bored. Found on Charing Cross Road, the top floor holds a cafe, exhibition space and there’s even a record shop for the real old fogies among you. Choose your ideal selection and proudly take them back to your pick of the English capital's most incredible vacation rentals.
This one-of-a-kind shop and publisher unearths forgotten, out-of-print books and gives them a new lease of life by republishing them under the dove-grey coloured Persephone banner. If you get lucky, maybe they’ll reprint you with a new cover too? One can dream. With a focus on giving 20th-century women writers the platform that the patriarchy denied them, Persephone books is a great place to find your new favourite or to pick up chic presents for the women in your life. On Lamb’s Conduit Street in central London, the Grade II-listed shop is worth a visit by itself.
Word on the Water
One for you if you still consider yourself to be cool even if your teenage kids cringe at your music choices, Word on the Water is a 100-year-old Dutch barge permanently moored on Regent’s Canal in King’s Cross. Stocked with an eclectic mix of titles both new and second hand, their children’s section is particularly good. There are frequent events held here, from poetry slams to jazz nights. A wood burning stove and friendly boat dog add to the ambience.
Lutyens & Rubinstein
Run by the literary agency of the same name, this smart bookshop in the heart of Notting Hill is designed to be intriguing. The stock was assembled using reader recommendations, so every book inside was loved by someone enough to want others to read it. The shop isn’t large, but it’s filled with heart. Strengths, apart from fiction, include a good art and poetry section. It’s definitely one of the best bookshops in London. Fancy staying in the neighbourhood? Our collection of Notting Hill homes is full of delights just like The Artist Getaway to choose from.
Books for Cooks
Are you the kind of cook who spends days prepping for dinner parties, or the kind who gives the grandkids microwaved hot dogs for dinner (no judgement - they’re delicious)? Either way, you’re going to want to visit Books for Cooks around lunchtime. Quite apart from the incredibly well-thought-out and extensive collection of cookbooks and books about food and food culture of all kinds, the cafe here is to die for. From the tiny kitchen, co-owner Eric Treuillé cooks recipes from the cookbooks that are for sale, literally advertising their wares. The food is so good that you’ll want to turn up around 11.45 (it opens at midday) to try to snag a seat from the hungry locals. Don’t forget to get some cake for pudding - our pick is the lemon Victoria sponge - before retiring to your pick of London's most sought-after short stay lets.
London Review Bookshop
This bustling bookshop has only been open since 2003 (so to you it might feel very young) but it’s now such an institution that we can’t imagine London without it. In their words, their books are ‘intelligent without being pompous; engaged without being partisan’, and are meant to reflect ethos of the literary publication of the same name. The cake at the cafe is excellent, and they have a great program of literary events and author talks.
Daunt Books Marylebone
This favourite amongst London’s best bookshops is so beautiful, you’re likely to get annoyed with the many youngsters snapping pictures for their Instagrams here. Found in an Edwardian building on Marylebone High Street, walking in feels like that moment you first saw your university library as a fresher. All of the books are arranged by country rather than by genre, so you’re sure to come across hidden gems you wouldn’t normally consider. If you fancy staying in the neighbourhood, we've got plenty of charming London aparthotels to call home away from home throughout your stay. Marylebone is a great options for families, or those looking for the best areas to stay in London for shopping.
Gay’s the Word
You can’t have a list of the best bookshops in London without including Gay’s the word. The only speciality LGBTQ+ bookshop in the country, it’s been a London landmark since 70s. Having overcome homophobia and raids from Customs, this shop acts as a beacon of hope for many as well as being the headquarters of several gay rights movements. Of course, the books themselves are so interesting that you’ll have to drag yourself away. Think about bringing your kids here - not only so they can see a cultural icon, but so you can prove to them that you still know what’s hip.
And there we have it, our guide to the best bookshops in London. Want to keep reading? Take a look at our guide to Kensington or our list of the best markets in London next. And if you're planning a trip to the city (it's worth it for the books alone), then take a look at our collection of serviced apartments in London, as well as our exclusive range of the most luxurious holiday rentals that London has to offer. Our home critics meticulously vet each and every award-winning home on our site – checking everything from WiFi speed to the artwork on the walls – to ensure your perfect stay. We're serious about standards here at Plum Guide, and we know you are too.